Office for Civil Rights
Annual Report to Congress FY 2004

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Congress enacted the civil rights laws as a mandate to bring the formerly excluded into the mainstream of American education. These laws also are designed to carry out the U.S. Department of Education's commitment to assuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual.

The federal civil rights laws have helped bring about profound changes in American education and improved the educational opportunities of millions of students. Many barriers that once prevented minorities, women and girls, and individuals with disabilities from freely choosing the educational opportunities and careers they would like to pursue have been eliminated.

While we applaud this progress, we recognize that there are persons who continue to be denied equal access to quality education. However, behind statistical data and research findings is a human face—a student hoping for a chance to learn and excel. This hope is expressed eloquently in the letter below from a college student with a disability. The statement serves as a reminder of the potential impact of the civil rights laws in making a difference in improving individual lives.

I am one of the millions of students who have a learning disability, dyslexia, and I also have health problems that make ordinary daily living a challenge….

The life I live is hard but not impossible. I am not looking for pity or sympathy or platitudes. I do not want undeserved special treatment. I am not an exception, a freak, a statistical abnormality. I am a real person with real disabilities. The problems I live with are hard for you to see. I have no wheelchair, white cane or hearing aid. If you use your imagination, maybe you can picture my life, wanting to talk, to listen, to read, to learn, and not being able to. Now add to that the confusion of harsh, chronic pain and frequent loss of motor control. This is my condition, a condition compounded by stress and frustration.

All I ask is a little respect in a world where people and institutions are allowed to discriminate against disabled persons in the interest of convenience and conformity. I can achieve anything, learn to do anything, but not in an environment of censure and bureaucratic red tape. I am asking for a chance, a fair chance, to get an education. I am willing to fight for my future. I should not be penalized by the attitudes of people who are allowed to sweep the disabled under a rug, refusing them their rights as individuals.

I am presenting this matter to you so that you might better understand the position of disabled persons. We are fighting for our lives, every day, both literally and figuratively. We have to fight for justice, both for ourselves and for each other, because, whether our disabilities are visible or not, we are easy to ignore. I pray that you will help me complete my education and that you will work to ensure the rights of all disabled students….

Letter from a college student forwarded to OCR
by a former member of the House of Representatives

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Last Modified: 11/01/2007